The Midlands Grand National celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and the showpiece event at Uttoxeter racecourse promises to be an occasion to remember.
Thousands of racegoers are expected to flock to the Staffordshire track for the big day on Saturday, 16 March, to cheer on a high-class field as they battle it out for a share of the spoils.
To mark this special anniversary, the course has announced a significant increase in the prize fund with a total pot of £272,000 on offer across the race card – an impressive £150,000 of which will be up for grabs in the feature race alone.
The 50th running of the Midlands Grand National will add another chapter to the rich and colourful history of a race which has gone on to become a mainstay of the racing calendar.
It was all so different on Saturday, 3 May 1969.
The Beatles were at number one in the pop charts when the race was first run and so unregarded was Uttoxeter at that time that the new “national” hardly caused a ripple in the racing press.
And that was a shame, for the winner Happy Spring was coming to the end of a fine career – which had seen him be one of only six horses ever to have beaten the legendary Arkle.
When Happy Spring and jockey Ken White galloped into the record books by becoming the first ever winner. The race is run over four miles and two furlongs, making it the second the longest race in the National Hunt calendar after the Aintree Grand National.
In the decades since, the winner’s circle has never welcomed the same horse twice with 49 different winners taking first prize.
And there have been some distinguished victors along the way.
In 1975, Rag Trade under the guidance of John Burke won the event and a year later put off Red Rum’s third victory in the Grand National by winning at Aintree.
In 1986 The Thinker stormed to victory and just over 12 months on joined racing’s elite by winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Just over a decade later Seven Towers dashed hopes of racegoers celebrating a local victory as it defeated Lord Gyllene.
The second-placed horse was owned by Staffordshire businessman and self-made millionaire Sir Stanley Clarke and his wife Lady Hilda. Whilst the boss of St. Modwen Properties narrowly failed to taste victory at his local course of Uttoxeter in the Midlands Grand National, his New Zealand bred gelding gave Sir Stanley his racing high point by winning the Aintree Grand National three weeks later.
The victory of Lord Gyllene at Aintree is remembered as much for the circumstances surrounding the bomb threats and re-staging of the Grand National on the following Monday, as for his win itself.
Then in 2010, racing royalty in the shape of legendary jockey AP McCoy and trainer Jonjo O’Neill enjoyed success with Synchronised. Once again, the horse showed success in the Midlands Grand National is a stamp of class as it went on to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup two years later.
Uttoxeter Racecourse Executive Director David MacDonald said: “The Midlands Grand National is always one of the most colourful and spectacular sporting days out in the region’s calendar.
“This top-class Listed Handicap Chase has a long and proud history and always features some of the best chasers in training with several of its previous winners and runners going on to achieved glory at events such as the Aintree Grand National and Cheltenham Gold Cup.
“But it isn’t just the racing which will draw in large numbers of visitors this year. Feedback from people who attend our course always tells us that the warm welcome, great hospitality and the ‘family feel’ at Uttoxeter racecourse are also major factors and they will be at the forefront again when we get to the big event in March.”